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Showing posts from March, 2007

Justice for Families - Launch of Angela Cannings Foundation

The above is a photograph of the participants in the Justice for Families Parliamentary Lobby this morning.

This is the first parliamentary lobby from Justice for Families. Chaired by John Hemming MP and with Bill Bache as Legal Advisor Justice for Families is campaigning for “justice for families”.

The word “family” indicates that this means campaigning for justice children, parents and grandparents. We will be looking at issues from the children’s perspective, the parents’ perspective and the wider families’ perspective.

This lobby looks specifically at the issue of miscarriages of justice in the criminal courts, but also at secrecy in the Family Courts. The Angela Cannings Foundation will also be launched at this event. The Angela Cannings Foundation has been set up to support and assist parents/carers who have been falsely accused of killing or harming their children. It will be run by people who have suffered at the hands of the system.

The following further seven Justice for …

Written Parliamentary Questions: 27th March 2007

Miscarriages of Justice: Family Courts

Q:To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs

(1) which Minister would be responsible for assessing whether systemic miscarriages of justice were occurring in the family courts;

(2) if she will establish a review of family court cases where Dr. David Southall retained a special case file.

A:My right hon. Friend The Lord Chancellor is responsible for supporting the efficient and effective administration of the courts. The judiciary is primarily responsible for guarding against miscarriages of justice and they are entirely independent of the executive. It is open to the parties in an individual case to seek legal advice about the route to appeal if they are dissatisfied with the outcome of the case.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills has inquiry-ordering powers in relation to the exercise by local authorities of their children's services functions. In 2004, a review of cases that were before…

People's Assembly

It is quite nice of the People's Assembly to video and upload speeches to YouTube. I have extracted mine which is above. This does highlight how I really do need to lose weight. I did this speech last week.

We will be doing videos with the press conference/lobby tomorrow about miscarriages of justice. Indeed I think it will be a good idea to do a video about local issues in Yardley etc.

Scrutiny and the Family Courts

It is quite clear that the Family Court Proceedings need more truly independent scrutiny. The government appear to be backtracking on openness.

What is needed is something to protect the participants from miscarriages of justice. One option is to use the same rules as the criminal courts where most material is handled in public, but the court can go into private session.

The government's option of bringing in the media was never ideal. What we need to be able to do is to discuss the proceedings in retrospect to determine what went wrong. We need to be able to compare the evidence from experts in different courts to find out what nonsense is being spouted. However, what we don't want is people's dirty linen to be strewn across the nation. The system with small pockets of commonsense is currently strewn with disaster. What I do get sitting in the House of Commons is contacts from across the country as the disaster continues to unfold.

It is clearly the case that the proce…

OLDHAM MBC v (1) GW (2) PW (3) KPW (A CHILD BY HIS GUARDIAN JACQUELINE COULTRIDGE) & FORBES (Intervenor) (2007)

This is an interesting case where the initial medical opinion was wrong. The judge refused permission to get a second opinion. Ages later it was found that the initial medical opinion was wrong. Importantly the Appeal Court also refused permission to get a second opinion to start out with.

This case has a public anonymised judgment. This family has been very badly treated both by the medical profession and also by the family division and initially by the appeal court although the parents were allowed a second opinion later.

This was not a strict SBS (Shaken Baby Syndrome) case as it came close to this, but was not the usual one as there was no retinal damage.

I may upload the judgment somewhere. The big issue, however, is that we are holding back medical work in the UK by just assuming that it is the parents that cause damage.

Proper work is needed which is intellectually rigorous dealing with SBS.

This judgment confirms my view that there are substantial systematic problems within …

Parents to Lobby Parliament

Parents who have been victims of miscarriages of justice and inappropriate prosecutions are planning a lobby of MPs next week. A meeting between Bill Bache, the legal advisor for Justice for Families and John Hemming MP, Chairman of Justice for families, is planning a lobby of MPs. Ian and Angela Gay, Angela Cannings and Marianne Williams have agreed to come to jointly lobby MPs on 28th March to call for changes in procedure and an end to false prosecutions of parents.

Bill Bache, the legal advisor, said, "If a Doctor does not know why a child has died then they should say that. They should not point the finger at parents merely because the cause of death is unclear."

John Hemming MP said, "There is a systematic problem in the operation of justice in both the criminal and family courts. The whole system needs an overhaul."

ENDS

Note for Editors:
Ian and Angela Gay were recently acquitted in a retrial where they were alleged to have poisoned their adopted son with …

Written Parliamentary Question: 21st March 2007

Paediatrics: Vetting

Q:To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many paediatricians working in hospitals in England have an up-to-date Criminal Records Bureau certificate clearing them to work with children.

A:This information is not held centrally. It is the responsibility of individual employers to carry out Criminal Records Bureau checks when employing any staff working with children, including paediatricians, in order to satisfy themselves that they are safe to carry out this type of work. NHS Employers provides guidance to employers on this matter. (Rosie Winterton, Minister of State (Health Services), Department of Health)

"In Care" is not always safe for children

The link is to a BBC story about a Foster Carer being convicted of abusing children in her care in Bristol. This continued to 2005 so it cannot be claimed that the procedures have been improved to prevent this from happening.

What worries me is that I have heard of the death of a child in foster care in the North West. On approaching the local authority, however, they refuse to say anything. I am worried that foster carers are getting overloaded as well.

Many of the prosecutions that ensure are where the victims are now adults. It worries me the number of stories I hear from children in care whose views are not taken into account by the system.

I must stress that the vast majority of foster carers do a good job caring for children. However, there are also material numbers that abuse children. If fewer children were taken into care in the first instance then there would be less of a need to use the more marginal carers.

It is, however, now clear to me that the substance of the proble…

Grandparents and Childrens Services

The system is really stacked against grandparents. They have all the powers of the state aligned against them and generally cannot get legal aid.

It is also not in the state's interests for grandparents to look after children as it does not satisfy the adoption targets and the money machine that has built up around child protection is insufficiently fed.

St Patrick's Day Parade Photos Birmingham 2007

Sally Clark - It's still happening

The most important point to note from the press coverage relating to the miscarriage of justice relating to Sally Clark (and Angela Cannings, Ian and Angela Gay and the prosecutions of Trupti Patel and Marianne Williams) is that this is still going on.

Firstly, parents are being prosecuted because doctors don't know what happened. Or indeed because doctors do know, but want to point the finger in a different direction.

Secondly, there are still people in jail who should not be.

Thirdly, it is far far worse in the Family Courts than the Criminal Courts.

I have spent some time studying the different aspects of the systems of family justice. That has involved dealing with individual cases in court and elsewhere. Gradually it is possible to see a wider picture of what is happening.

The system is an almost total disaster. The story today in the Sunday Mercury about the way in which Birmingham's Social Services failed a child because they ignored the child's grandparents - in con…

Sally Clark RIP

It is very sad to hear of the death of Sally Clark. She was a victim of the courts in the UK that claim to be based upon justice. She is not the only victim, but one of the more high profile victims.

Some people wonder why I am so concerned about the way in which our system persecutes parents (particularly mothers). The story of Sally Clark should explain why.

Peak Oil predictions converge

The current prediction from the Association for the Study of Peak Oil is for all liquids to peak in 2011. This is coming closer to the IEA's one model of 2015. The IEA's normally quoted 2030 figure relies on assumptions that are not proven.

Gas is also expected to peak at around 2011. It is entirely rational to expect the predictions from the "optimists" and "pessimists" to converge as they all depend upon uncertainties that turn gradually into certainties.

It seems clearer that the conventional oil peak was in 2005. This was the source of oil that traditional predictions related to. Obviously there is deepwater oil (the main source pushing out the peak) and other sources. However, there is not that much of that source and it is also harder to extract.

The link is to the ASPO site where the newsletters are. The most recent newsletter
is number 75.

Trident - and deterrence

Whereas I will be opposing the government's plans on this later today I thought I should put on record my views relating to this issue.

The underlying question is whether the UK should be in possession of nuclear weapons. That is weapons that are based upon the use of fission or fusion generated explosives. It is clear that we have moved on from the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction. However, it is not the case that we live in a safer world than during the cold war.

It is true that some of the hazards internationally have been developed by the actions of the UK and US governments in doing things which are destined to create nothing much more than enduring resentment. That does not mean, however, that all would have been sweetness and light had the UK not acted as it has.

The question, therefore, is whether there is a need for any weaponry based upon the more energetic nuclear systems rather than chemical explosives (not chemical weapons, however). I do think this is someth…

Culture and Conflict

I have had an interesting weekend of looking at the issues of culture and conflict.

On Sunday there was the usual St Patrick's Day Parade in which as usual I played the guitar as part of the Tipperary County Association. The song played most frequently is "Its a long way to Tipperary" which was written by a Londoner about soldiers. Tipperary was probably chosen for the number of vowels, but when you visit Tipperary now frequently you see the words "It's a long way".

I have to concentrate to play this as I don't normally remember the chords. Gradually as we go through I learn the chords or at least most of them. By the end of the parade I normally suffer a bit in my fingers, but can remember the chords. It then takes me a year to forget them before the next parade.

This is the third largest St Patrick's Day event in the world after Dublin and New York. The group following us was the Sandwell Irish Association which actually was a group of Sikhs playing …

Quite a week

It has been quite a week with various events. The Lords vote now has a majority of the commons agreeing on a number of possible ways forward. Labour MPs were finding it odd that having fewer Labour MPs made democracy in the House of Lords more likely.

The House of Lords still may vote for an appointed house, but this change can be got through with the Parliament Act. It is important that the political balance is not skewed by removing the hereditaries before the house is elected. Otherwise Labour will be able to more easily rubber stamp things in the House of Lords. The alternative is to appoint people as lifers to maintain balance. However, oddly enough the House of Lords has been a more effective check on the executive than the House of Commons.

A number of MPs were collecting signatures on the order paper for mementoes of the day, however.

The parliamentary party has spent some time looking at how the manifesto is developing. One MP (Steve Webb) has been given the task of deve…

Written Parliamentary Question: 6th March 2007

Graffiti: Prosecutions

Q:To ask the Solicitor-General under what circumstances the Crown Prosecution Service would prosecute a youth who is alleged to be writing graffiti tags on property.

A:The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) would apply the two stage test as set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors. The first stage is the evidential test: there has to be sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.

If there is, consideration has to be given to the second test, namely, whether a prosecution is required in the public interest. Relevant public interest considerations are set out in the code. A prosecution will be brought if the balance of public interest factors is in favour of a prosecution. If the youth has admitted the offence when interviewed, consideration will be given as to whether the case is suitable for diversion: in such cases, the option would be for the police to administer a reprimand or final warning. (Mike O'Brien, Solicitor General, Law Officers…

House of Lords Voting

The system to find the view of the house tomorrow is complex involving about 10 different motions. I shall support a bicameral system and the abolition of hereditaries ... once the elected members are elected. You can vote for or against a large number of options from 100% elected through 80%, 60% etc. As you cannot put a sequence of preference I shall be voting for 100% and 80%, but against the rest.

In theory there is a risk that this means that the 60% option gets defeated and no option passes - much like last time. However, I think 80% will probably get through. 60% is not enough. A key point about the appointment system is the concept of loans for peerages. If people are elected then the voters elect them not their bank balance. I don't have a problem with a small number of appointees more based upon cross bench principles, however.

Why is Southampton like Pluto?

Pluto is now not a planet and there are 8 planets. Southampton is not a core city and there are 8 core cities.

There have been debates about the relative sizes of Birmingham and other cities. The facts are:

The eight largest English cities outside London are Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol, Manchester, Leicester and Coventry.

The eight largest English authorities outside London are Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol and Kirklees.

This is because the definition of urban area and authority can be somewhat different.

Both Glasgow and Edinburgh would feature in the list of cities and urban areas if they were included.

Newcastle and Nottingham, however, are core cities. Leicester and Coventry are not.
No idea why.

Mother has information for Attorney General

The Sunday Express has an interesting story about a mother who got copies of the secret medical files and would be happy to give them to the Attorney General.

One of the points about the Family Courts is that the secrecy operates to protect the bureaucrats involved. For example, I as an MP cannot report a firm of solicitors for failing to do their job properly. I would need to be legally qualified to do this. Furthermore permission from a judge is required before evidence can be provided to the police of perjury and perverting the course of justice.

Not all judges are willing to have their social workers prosectuted when they lie in court. Hence it can be difficult to get this permission.

From time to time Child Protection proceedings are started in retalitation for parents complaining about doctors or other medical professionals. It is these cases where evidence gets manufactured.

Modernising Medical Careers

Dr Rant (see link) is not entirely happy about "Modernising Medical Careers". He has linked to a large number of web items about MMC.

I personally don't like the word "modernising". What it tends to mean is changing something for change's sake. To that extent I don't mind being described as a "progressive", but I don't like being described as a "moderniser".

Change can help, but in itself it causes problems and, therefore, should only happen when there are very clear reasons for the change.

Red Noses banned in Westminster

If you click on the link you will find out why it is arguable that red noses are now banned in the SOCA Westminster Zone.

I think the police will probably be sensible, but it points about the absurdity of much of Labour's proposals.

Ian and Angela Gay

It is obviously good news that the above have been acquitted. What needs to happen now is that we need to stop pointing the finger of blame at parents when doctors don't know what has happened. Doctors are not omniscient. There really needs to be some evidence that something has been done by the parents.

This also applies in the Family Courts.

Court of Appeal

Regular readers of my blog may have noticed entries relating to a particular case appearing and disappearing. This case has now gone to the Court of Appeal and as such the entries have been deleted again.

Growing the Twilight Zone of employment

The TUC's evidence to the Borders Bill Committee was interesting yesterday. In particular the story of Portuguese Workers in Leicstershire getting false Brazilian Passports so they could prove they are illegal immigrants and get work from people who only employ illegal workers.

Graffiti and Community Punishment

Tagging is a big problem across the city. It appears that the government do not believe in prosecuting taggers unless they have done damage of £5,000. The problem is that there is a simple community punishment for taggers that will deter tagging - clear it up.

This is not about locking up a tagger for years. It is simply making them clear up their mess. However, the government won't even do this.

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): In Birmingham perhaps £1 million a year, and in my constituency perhaps £100,000 a year, is spent on clearing up graffiti tagging, yet it seems to be the Government’s policy that unless someone does more than £5,000-worth of damage, no more than a caution is necessary. Can we have a debate about how we can
deter youths from tagging, perhaps by making them clear up the mess that they create?

Mr. Straw: I can tell the hon. Gentleman what we will have a debate about as soon as possible—Liberal Democrats saying one thing here and a very different thing in…

Written Parliamentary Question: 1st March 2007

Dr. David Southall

Q:To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if she will ask local authorities to take steps to identify child protection cases since 1981 to which they have been party where requests for medical records were made by any party to the case to Dr. David Southall and to report to her any such cases.

A:I have been asked to reply.

Child protection cases are the responsibility of local authorities and the Government would not usually intervene in these matters.
(Parmjit Dhanda, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Skills)